Rural disconnect a hang-up for opportunity

This opinion piece was originally published in Dubbo Weekender on 12 June 2015Kim V Goldsmith Dubbo Weekender

Imagine a world with one billion more mouths to feed, oil free economies fiercely competing for resources and access to clean water, the Yuan as a benchmark currency, and lives more regulated than ever in a digitised, high density living society where some may live to 150…and urban/regional polarisation is greater than ever.

This was part of a projected future delivered to delegates at a recent summit of culture, technology and entrepreneurship in Sydney, where there were less than a handful of regional representatives in attendance amongst the many delegates from major city-based cultural institutions and marketing organisations.

This vision of an even more digitised world of connected technologies created a level of excitement amongst some delegates, who continued to enthuse about it over coffee and macarons between sessions.

Accelerating the changes leading us to this future is connectivity – an alarming realisation for someone who chooses to live in regional Australia – a lifestyle choice, some might say.

To think our place in this unrecognisable future world is driven by our ability to connect with the rest of the world worries me greatly when so many parts of the regional Australia I know and love so well are still backwaters in terms of connectivity.

Ubiquitous connectivity and access to higher data speed and more online storage might be part of urban futures, but for rural areas who may get 3G mobile coverage from one particular provider on a good day or if they have an external antenna rigged up, the cost of data plans put equitable access to a connected world out of reach.

Prior to going to said summit I spent a day in the office trying to get ahead of deadlines only to spend four hours rebooting my NBN fixed wireless system instead – it crashes on cloudy days.

I’ve been touring rural communities delivering social media training and while my hosts have done their best to organise Wi-Fi-connected venues, I go with at least two backups. None of it is reliable.

Video is the biggest trend in social media today. It comes to us on so many channels now there’s very little need to watch free to air television, unless your ability to connect to the internet is poor.

According to the NBN rollout map, not one of the communities I’ve visited this past week looks close to having NBN broadband in the near future, even one that disconnects on cloudy days.

So, how does one present best practice social media and its benefits to marketing and networking to individuals, community groups, small businesses and organisations in our rural communities when the ability to upload or playback video is nothing short of frustrating?

Jayant Murty of multinational technology company, Intel, suggested to summit delegates that major companies need to be more innovative in providing (branded) solutions to society’s issues going forward, adding that framing problems is more challenging than framing solutions.

For rural and regional Australia the problems are complex and I’m not sure any major company would see our communities as being viable enough to warrant investing in long-term solutions…even our political parties struggle with this.

As our starkly beautiful country is ravaged by more droughts, populations shift steadily towards our expansive coastlines; rural refugees seek new, more connected opportunities in regional and metropolitan cities.

On a more hopeful note, another of Intel’s representatives at the summit, an entertaining Australian-born anthropologist by the name of Dr Genevieve Bell left us pondering over a “messy and myriad future full of opportunities and challenges”.

How to get the people of regional Australia a piece of that more hopeful future?

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